Insight article

Friday Stories: Touching the Void

This week’s Friday story comes from the 2003 documentary film Touching the Void, which tells the story of two British mountaineers who experience disaster on the desolate face of a Peruvian peak.

Joe Simpson and Simon Yates were descending the Siula Grande after a successful trip to the summit, when, as a storm was brewing, Joe fell and severely broke his leg. There was no chance a rescue team could be summoned. So the two tied a rope between them, and Simon slowly lowered Joe down the face of the mountain.

But after they got started, the ground gave way beneath Joe. Simon, higher up the peak, had no idea that his friend was hanging helplessly from over the side of a cliff.

Simon was left with no real choice: it was either perish on the side of the mountain, be pulled over the cliff along with Joe, or cut the rope. So he cut the rope.

Joe survived the fall, but ended up deep in a crevasse from which he’d never be able to climb out. Simon hadn’t a clue where Joe had ended up, and assumed he was dead. There was no one else around.

This is where Joe’s courage and understanding of his situation culminated in an astoundingly courageous decision. 

“Short of dying on the ledge”, he says, “my only choice was to lower myself deeper into the crevasse.

“You’ve got to make decisions, you’ve got to keep making decisions – even if they’re wrong decisions. If you don’t make decisions, you’re stuffed”.

In such a situation, all the inner voices would be saying to wait for help, to avoid making a bad situation worse. But here, he had nothing to lose. All was just about already lost.

“I really struggled to make that decision. I was so scared of going deeper. The other option was just to sit there, blindly hoping it might get better, and I just knew it wasn’t going to get better”.

He deliberately avoided tying a knot in the end of the rope. If there was nothing down there, no ground he could reach, he decided to fall rather than hang there.

Of course, at this point in the story, we know it worked out – otherwise there’d be no story. 80 feet down, Joe finds the bottom of the crevasse, as well as a corridor of light coming from one side, a perfect pathway out.

What’s amazing is not so much that he survived, but the counterintuitive decisions that allowed him to.

Take a look at the full clip – and be sure to rent the film and watch it in full.

Nailia Tasseel